Are you ready?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

So here we are. It’s almost Christmas Day.

Most of us have spent the last several weeks getting ready.

Maybe this year you purchased a real tree and spent time setting it up and decorating it.

Perhaps you are like others and retrieved the one kept in the box and set it up and decorated it.

We’ve bought gifts and wrapped them.

Well, Heather bought our gifts and wrapped them. I just signed the cards. She is much better at the gift thing. 

Did you attend or host a holiday party?

Did the family gather and celebrate early?

Did you send your cards and letters out far and wide?

These are all wonderful things to do with your family and friends.

Soon, we will gather in familiar places with familiar faces and celebrate with family, friends and neighbors.

Together, we will sing the familiar carols, we will light and hold our candles, and we will retell that age old story. 

Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born! 

It will be beautiful. I hope you take time to take it all in. 

But here’s the thing. 

For all our preparation and for all the beauty around us, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more.

Something we miss in all our planning and preparation. All our decorations and gift giving.

So much of what we spend time and energy and money on has little to do with that simple, yet provocative, age-old story we read together each year. 

A story so familiar we almost know it by heart. 

A story about Mary and Joseph, a relationship filled with hardship from the get-go.

Difficult decisions to be made against traditions that point them in opposite directions.

A story about shepherds in a field. And Angels from the realms of glory.

A story so layered by tradition and Christmas card images, so softened by our focus on glowing candles that its meaning and challenge get lost in the grandeur of our celebrations. 

We know the story, but maybe we miss the struggle and tension that truly make it wonderful and miraculous. The parts we don’t put in Christmas cards to family and friends.

Things like the stark contrast between the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and Jesus, the Son of God … born in Bethlehem … laid in a manger. 

Or King Herod, sitting on his throne in the palace, threatened by the prospect of a new king. 

Or the harrowing story of Mary and Joseph making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. 

And the Roman legions who patrolled the streets and countryside ‘imposing’ their peace. 

Meanwhile, the heavenly host sings a proclamation of peace on Earth, good will to all. 

As we hear the story, we are left to ask ourselves …  

What is this story really trying to say? 

Which side of the story will we choose as our own to guide and direct our living?

What does all this mean for us today? 

What does all this mean for you today … with the world as it is and your life as it is? 

If there’s something in this story about peace on Earth that weaves itself around some deep longing within you … 

if there’s something in this story about everyone, not just the rich and powerful, having a place …

and if there’s something that brings into focus how you imagine life and this world might be, should be … 

… then how are you getting ready for that kind of Christmas? 

There’s something in this story about God with us that rings true for me … that tugs at my spirit. 

God with us. Not over us. Not judging or condemning us. 

God with us in this wonderful, complex, sorrowful, joyful thing we call life. 

God with you and me. With us and them. 

God here. God now. 

Just as you are. Just as we are. Just as they are. 

The cards and gifts, the trees and parties, the time spent with family and friends are important, and those memories can last a lifetime.

But remember the story. The whole story. 

Christmas Day is almost here.

I pray that all of us can prepare for that kind of Christmas.  

Are you ready?

Is God noisy?

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 

– 1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV

This past Wednesday morning began as every other since July 11: a walk along a noisy and crowded Flushing, Queens, New York sidewalk to the subway station, hoping and praying that an express train to Manhattan (Times Square/42nd Street) would be available. 

However, a question randomly popped in my head.

“If humans are made in the image and likeness of God, is God noisy?” 

I answered myself, “Well, God is hugely into music, just like us.

“He likes to hear choirs sing His praises. Even the heavenly bodies in the galaxy make sounds!

“And Jesus got killed for the noise He made while on Earth. Of course, God isn’t necessarily quiet.” 

Later that day, after rehearsal, I decided to get some dinner before going to the piano practice studios near Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan. 

On a street corner near Penn Station (34th Street and 7th Avenue), I heard an accompaniment track playing the hymn tune HENDON, which is commonly sung to the text Take My Life and Let it Be

In the near deafening noise that is lower Manhattan, I could faintly hear the song, and I started singing it out loud as I walked to the restaurant.

After dinner, I took the train up to Lincoln Center.

Because I was uncharacteristically early to my appointment, I sat in a park near the Tony Plaza. 

A clock struck 7:00pm, and then I faintly heard synthetic church bells playing the iconic hymn Abide With Me.

As I was enjoying and soon about to sing along, a drumline marched down the street and completely drowned out this prayerful hymn. 

I had a realization I felt impressed to share:

God chooses not to compete with our noise. 

In fact, our being silent in His presence is one of the humblest acts we can perform. 

It is our way of acknowledging that God’s “noise” is more important than our own. 

Then I asked myself, “Do I keep myself too busy to allow the voice of God to be heard?

“Is my mind too polluted with the philosophies of this world to allow God to reveal to me what He wants me to see?”

I don’t know, but this past Wednesday in New York City gave me much to consider. 

A morning prayer

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.

Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

– An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer, United Methodist Hymnal, 876

I love this prayer because it reminds me that every day God is working out God’s purpose.

It also reminds me that we all need to be a part of God’s work every day. 

Sometimes when praying, my prayers sound like a task list for what I want God to do.

It’s almost as if I’m saying “my will be done,” instead of “thy will be done.” 

A few weeks ago, we sang the hymn Open My Eyes that I May See. 

This is a wonderful morning prayer! I hope you will pray it with me this morning. 

Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; 

place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;  

and while the wavenotes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; 

open my heart and let me prepare love with they children thus to share. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine! 


Sometimes a light surprises

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Liminal space” is a popular phrase lately.

When I looked it up, this is the description I found: 

The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘limen,’ which means threshold. To be in a liminal space means to be on the precipice of something new but not quite there yet. You can be in a liminal space physically, emotionally, or metaphorically. Being in a liminal space can be incredibly uncomfortable for most people. 

My life is that kind of place right now. I’m thankful that there is a different kind of liminal space.

Godly Play describes a place like this for the prophet:

“When God comes so close to them and they come so close to God, that they know what is most important …”

We, too, can come close to God and find healing and understanding.

Hymn writer William Cowper describes this space well: 

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while she sings: 
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings. 
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again 
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain. 

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue 
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new. 
Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say, 
E’en let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may: 

It can bring with it nothing but he will bear us through: 
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too: 
Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed; 
And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Though vine nor fig-tree neither their wonted fruit should bear, 
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks, nor herds be there, 
Yet, God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice; 
For, while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice. 

I hope you can find space for gratitude, trust, healing and rejoicing.

It came upon a midnight clear

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Season of Hope!” is our advent theme this year.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorites. It’s an old black and white movie.

At the beginning of the movie, a senior angel is talking to a junior, telling him about George Bailey.

The scene is set with a star-lit sky.

Although it’s two stars blinking at each other, it is evident that angels are talking to each other.

Clarence is the junior. Here is a bit of the conversation: 

Senior Angel: A man down on earth needs our help. 

Clarence: Splendid. Is he sick? 

Senior Angel: No, worse. He’s discouraged. 

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. Life happens.

For young ones, it’s falling off a bike, making a poor grade, losing a game or parents divorcing.

For young adults, it is not getting a job, house, or family that was hoped for in younger years.

For older adults, it can be that things are changing – new technologies, kids moving away or age discrimination.

For all ages, it’s broken relationships, losing loved ones and unrest in the world.

You name yours. There are numerous reasons that we get discouraged and lose hope.

There are so many wonderful Christmas carols. We have so little time to sing them all.

Often times in our haste to sing them all, we only sing one or two verses of each.

Sometimes, however, the most significant verses are in the middle.
This is true in the song, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For background, the Greek word for “angel” means “messenger.”

This song describes angel messengers coming throughout all times, bringing us the message of peace and love.

Three of the verses speak of world conditions.

But the third verse, which is most often omitted, says this: 

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
As many of you know, my father died the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I grieve for myself, but mostly for my mom, who literally lost her life-long love.

I’m thankful for those of you who have modeled “good grieving.”

I recognize that you put your trust in our merciful Lord in times of both sorrow and joy.

I find it ironic that I can feel both joy/peace and sorrow/grief at the same time. 
As I “rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing,” these scriptures come to my mind:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
 and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
 and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
 they shall walk and not faint. 

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

– Titus 3:4-5

Loving God, help me to take time to rest, to listen and to be renewed by your Holy

Help me to be the person you need me to be to bring peace on earth (or a least to those who are near me.)
May your hope be renewed this advent season.

Fix your eyes on Jesus

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Wow! Can you believe that we are at the end of October?

What a year!!

We couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over, and then 2021 has been a bit difficult, too.

Planning music and youth choir activities has been challenging.

Sometimes the obstacles and uncertainty seem to overwhelm and distract me from doing the things I need to be doing.

As many of you are aware, we just finished this year’s Running 4 Clean Water 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run.

As chairperson, Joey Fisher had many obstacles to overcome.

Originally scheduled for April 2020, the event was rescheduled because of the ‘COVID lockdown.’

With the uncertainty of the situation, even the new dates had to be postponed twice. Finally, the October 2021 date was locked in!

We were set to hold the run at the Duck Creek Green Belt in South Garland.

About six weeks before the race, Joey and Cindy went to scout out the course and – BOOM – a massive section of the route including a bridge was under construction.

Ugh – yet another obstacle!

Obviously, Joey and Cindy led the committee through the obstacles and race was successful, raising more than $10,500!

Lives will be changed because of their perseverance!

(Thanks, Joey and Cindy!)
Considering the race and the upcoming All Saints’ Day holiday on November 1, this scripture passage from Hebrews comes to mind: 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) 

There is a lot packed into these verses and that book of the Bible!

For this reflection, I am focusing on the phrase fixing our eyes on Jesus.
I am so thankful for those who have gone before me, teaching me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus’ way.

I am thankful for those of you who encourage each other, overcoming the obstacles that hinder God’s kingdom on earth.

I am thankful that Jesus sees each of us and is not distracted.

Jesus sees who we were, who we are and who we are becoming.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in shame, guilt, grudges or just the business of life, we can’t move forward.

Please know that you are Jesus’ beloved.

Keeping that in mind, take one step at a time, knowing that God is with you each step of the way.

You will persevere! You will finish the race!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, 
look full in his wonderful face, 
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace. 

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Hymn 349
United Methodist Hymnal

God’s love endures forever

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

My husband Wally and I have three adult children who love to travel.

Perhaps they developed that love from all the many choir tours of their youth.

Our oldest daughter, in particular, has a knack for finding great deals.

She will often call and say, “Mom, I found a great deal on tickets to … Do you and Daddy want to come!?!?”

These destinations included places like Panama, Iceland, Belize, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Jordan, St. Petersburg and more. 

Most of the time, we would have to decline the invitation because of our church commitments. 

This year, however, the invitation came at an opportune time, so we accompanied them.

Our first port-of call was Ireland.

Because we traveled on Portuguese Airlines, we spent time in Portugal, too!

Both are beautiful countries with beautiful and kind people.

Both countries are rich in complex history.
Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of the lush green vegetation.

Dividing the fields are stacked stone walls. Some of these walls are fairly new. But many are prehistoric.

My mind could barely fathom the generations of people who lived on this land.

We visited many very old historic sites.

The Franciscan friary known as Muckross Abbey is vivid in my memory.

There is a yew tree believed to be from the 15th century.

The tree survived the massacre and torching of the abbey led by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.

As I wondered how the tree survived, I wondered why an army would want to kill and burn down the home of peaceful monks.
Visiting Ireland made my vague historic understanding come alive.

I am amazed at all the hardships of the Irish, and how they survive and thrive just like that yew tree in the abbey.
Our journey continued to Sintra, Portugal.

The history and architecture of this town is remarkable. The details baffling. The history opulent.

There were so many fortresses and palaces.

Plaques and brochures informed us of who built what during their dynasty.
As I wandered the halls and beautiful gardens of each place, a phrase from a song, repeated itself in my mind:

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name. 
Sometimes watching the news can be unsettling.

I find hope when I read the verses in the scripture stating: 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. 
Take time to read Psalm 145. Verses 13-14 state: 

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. 

The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. 

I’m thankful that the one everlasting kingdom is God’s Kingdom of mercy and love! 


Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

June 6 sits boldly on my calendar.
It’s the day when we can say that our long 2020 Lenten nightmare is over.
When leadership announced our return date, a certain inspiration in my practice sessions that has been missing for 14 months suddenly reappeared.
Instead of lying awake at night wondering if music would return to the stage, or if I would have a church to return to, I now lay awake planning and re-planning concerts.
My mood is quickened, and I feel a sense of positivity that I hope is infectious.
I can’t wait to experience the thrill of leading the congregation through robust hymns of praise from the organ. 

I eagerly anticipate the Chancel Choir filling the loft again, singing joyous anthems to God.
In my inner ear, I once again hear the Bell Choir ringing praises to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
I can’t wait to reconnect and reacquaint myself with the new Pure Joy! Youth Choir as, in these last 14 months, the membership has changed.
My mind hasn’t stopped racing with potential projects, possible serial concerts, or probable theatrical productions for a revived West Avenue B Community Concerts series.
While I am thankful to the overlong 2020 Lent for forcing me to get more comfortable with cameras and microphones, I’m raring to move onward and upward.
I can’t wait to play for you once again. In real life.
I pray I see you soon!

By his love

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? 
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace! 

Charles Wesley, master hymn writer, brother of John Wesley, and our ancestor in Methodism, penned these words in 1749.

This hymn (sung to the tune of Blest Be the Tie That Binds) was popular at annual meetings of the Methodist Societies in England. 

Times could be hard, and the lyrics of this hymn recognized that, giving the gathered body the opportunity to sing of what they had struggled with over the last year:

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, 
Fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last. 

This hymn feels like it was written just for us – the people called Methodist – who have lived through a year beyond our imagining. 

Yet we are coming through this, all the while holding in our hearts the suffering of people across the globe who continue to struggle with the effects of COVID-19. 

And joy of joys, we will be able to see each other’s face as we gather for in-person worship on June 6 for the first time in 15 months! 

We are re-entering in a careful fashion, paying attention to CDC and Dallas County guidelines.

We want to “do no harm,” to keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible. 

But we will gather for worship again – to pray together, praise together, see each other, give thanks that God has been faithful through this ordeal. 

Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; 
and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above. 

I am excited to gather again, and to see you, my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. 

May God bless this new stage of our journey together! 

Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, 
which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more. 

Let us take up the cross till we the crown attain, 
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain. 

Make it a good-un

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

I will occasionally search the Internet – “This day in history.”

Usually war history and celebrity birthdays are at the top of the list.

But there are also the scientists and engineers with all their inventions and discoveries.

The musicians and artists with their compositions.

And occasionally an author with a famous book.

I wonder, what is special about this day for me?

When I was the Director of Music at Wesley United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, instead of saying, “see you later,” one of our older gentlemen would say, “Make it a good-un!”

Meaning make this day a good one.

That actually has great wisdom and some deep theological implications!

Consider this – how do you make this day a good one?

Sometimes we go about our day, letting our day happen to us, instead of intentionally making it a good-un. 

Granted, there are days that are legitimately bad.

But sometimes, I will allow myself to complain about everyone and everything.

During this pandemic, many of us have had those griping and complaining days.

We end up saying things, writing letters and emails, or posting things that only tear down each other, the church and the Kingdom of God.

When I do this, the Holy Spirit urges me to stop and consider, “Was my action really God’s calling?” 

What is God’s calling?

That topic is another interesting Internet search – “Bible verses on God’s call.”

The top results are “to do justice,” “speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” “love one another,” and the list goes on.

Interestingly, it doesn’t say complain or speak critically of others. 

Well – that’s it.

That’s something for us to reflect on today. 

Make it a good un!

Peace to you! 

PS – Click here to listen to Joey Fisher’s arrangement of This is the Day the Lord Has Made by Isaac Watts. (Thanks Joey!)